Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dialogue with Maymon: When France bans Burqas


In our country we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,” Mr Sarkozy said to applause in his historic speech to lawmakers in chateau at Versailles.

French goverment decides to impose ban on Burqa. It was one of the headlines in many online and print media.

"Who doesn't see that our integration model isn't working any more? Instead of producing equality, it produces inequality. Instead of producing cohesion, it creates
" Sarkozy said.

Is France again leading by example? It has produced greatest of thinkers who influenced human race over the years. Philosophers like Voltaire, openly stood against Catholic Church dogma for the freedom of religion. He and Diderot regarded religion intolerant and tried to enlighten the society through their writings as early as seventeenth century.

But this ban of burqa, is sure going to invite debates and controversies. Muslim religious leaders in France and over the world is going to see it as yet another bid to stigmatise their religion.

The progressive section in both muslim and non-muslim community is going to welcome this. Who defines the boundary line between secularism and personal freedom.

A similar law in 2004, banned head scarfs at public schools. It invited criticism from the small Sikh community as well, when Sikh boys disallowed from entering class-rooms with turban. In Holland they tried to ban burqa last year, but stopped amid fears of possible backlashes.

I dont know how comfortable is Burqa compared to other forms of dress. But I feel most of the time women are forced to wear it on the name of religion. Let us not blame it on Islam alone. Recently there was on incident in Chennai where a college student was banned when she refused to wear a saree according to the college dress code. The case is still under high court's consideration. Lets hope our law would respect her choice!

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Dear Maymon,

The last line in your note makes a strong point. I think we should all learn to respect other's choices. And I see the ban on Burqas primarily as a disrespect to that choice.

I know it is not so simple. All women who wear Burqa may not be wearing it on their personal choice. (That is true for many things that many people do, and almost anything that women do, in almost all cultures, in almost all parts of the world). But for those who have chosen to wear a Burqa, this moves comes as a violation of their fundamental individual rights.

I have also wondered how could it be comfortable at all to wear a Burqa. But then I have heard and read women who find it very comfortable and even empowering, for various reasons. The simplest one is that they don't have to worry much about the male gazes and passing comments on their body. They are also looked upon with respect. (In the Indian context, Ambedkar did not like Gandhi's idea of burning foreign dresses -- he said for Dalits, the 'English' dress was empowering. A Brahmin or Vysya could be respected even in minimal dress, but not a dalit).

At the end, I think banning Burqas is as bad as imposing Burqas.. And that a ban is certainly not the way to go..

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[Image above: a photoshopped image that has been doing rounds on email. The original can be found here.]


Sudeep said...

Sandhya's was the first guest post on this blog, and this is also a first of its kind. I hope the readers like these variations:-)

It would be nice if someone could continue with this dialogue here..

Sudeep said...

Anand comments on facebook:

" will be interesting how the muslim community in france and all over the world react to this. As for Burqua being comfortable to many,avoiding gazes and comments could mostly be an indian situation where any comment on a women's body most certainly would create clashes of sex."

Arun said...

I agree with your point of view.

Though France would have led the way for the world, current French politics and politicians dont show much justice to that legacy.

For eg: prostitution is permitted by law in France in the name of individual rights. But when it comes to a dress, people get all moral!

Sudeep said...

Thanks Arun.. (though I'd say prostitution, when not forced, is an individual right..)

Anand, I don't believe it is just an Indian thing.. Also, there is no point in insisting that a comment passed on a woman's body (or for that matter even a man's body) should be taken the same way by every woman (man). We are living in multicultured societies, so we better accept that fact.

Sudeep said...

Here is a complelling post, on a similar ban in Canada. Where were all the feminists? Busy planning a Boobquake?
Time we rethink our priorities.